Men’s water polo brings home UCLA’s 112th NCAA championship
UCLA men’s water polo won the Bruins’ 112th national championship after sophomore center Gordon Marshall’s goal proved to be the difference-maker between UCLA and USC. (Katie Meyers/Daily Bruin senior staff)
By Claire Fahy
Dec. 7, 2014 9:48 p.m.
The scoreline stood at eight goals apiece as the clock wound down on the NCAA championship between UCLA men’s water polo and USC Sunday night. The tide had turned after the Bruins opened the final period comfortably leading 7-4, now finding themselves in a scenario with which UCLA was all too familiar.
Just two years ago, UCLA led USC 10-9 in the title match with just over three minutes to play before the Trojans recovered to defeat the Bruins 11-10 in the waning seconds.
“Up 7-4 in the fourth, you can never count (USC) out,” said junior utility Danny McClintick. “They’re coming back swinging every time.”
This time around, sophomore center Gordon Marshall prevented history from repeating itself when McClintick found him wide open in front of the goal. Marshall fired one final shot past USC goalie McQuin Baron to seal UCLA’s 9-8 victory with 34 seconds left.
“Personally, I can say this is the most selfless team that I’ve played on. Nobody cares who scores. Nobody cares who gets the credit,” McClintick said. “Nobody cares about any of the outside stuff. It’s all about what we need to do to be successful. That’s what makes it so special.”
The last time UCLA men’s water polo won a national title, it was against Stanford in 2004 – a decade ago. Following that championship, USC asserted itself as a national powerhouse, appearing in every championship game since and winning six straight NCAA titles from 2008 to 2013.
“To put themselves in the championship game 10 times in a row is incredible,” said coach Adam Wright. “What they’ve done is one hell of a job. It’s incredible.”
UCLA welcomed a new era Sunday night, breaking USC’s title streak. Anchored by sophomore goalie Garrett Danner’s nine saves, UCLA proved the adage, “defense wins championships,” as the team forced USC into making multiple shot clock violations, turnovers and offensive fouls.
On the Trojans’ final possession following Marshall’s eventual game-winner, senior utility Cristiano Mirarchi worked to shut down Kostas Genidounias, USC’s go-to scorer, before sophomore attacker Ryder Roberts’ field block finished off the Trojans’ hopes for a comeback.
“My team came out strong and played great defense basically throughout the whole game,” Danner said. “(I) can’t ask them to play any better defense than they did.”
It was apparent from the opening sprint that claiming the NCAA championship was a long time in the making for UCLA. The Bruins locked down defensively, holding the Trojans scoreless in the first quarter for the first time in at least five season match ups.
The fervor of the team’s effort was only amplified by the large crowd of UCLA students who relentlessly battled USC’s cheering section throughout the game, creating a frenetic energy within UCSD’s Canyonview Aquatics Center.
Coming out of the halftime break, however, UCLA’s intensity ebbed as USC scored first and closed within a single point. McClintick then took over, scoring two of his game-high four goals to maintain the Bruins’ lead at 6-3.
As the third quarter wound down, the Trojans waited for the buzzer to sound and the Bruins arranged themselves for the final play of the quarter.
Instead of simply allowing the clock to expire, sophomore attacker Jack Fellner fired a last second shot attempt, catching USC goalie McQuin Baron off guard and giving the Bruins a 7-4 lead heading into the final quarter.
In a single play, Fellner exemplified UCLA’s entire NCAA title campaign – a refusal to back down.
Three times over the course of Wright’s tenure, the Bruins have played in an NCAA final and failed to grasp their goal.
This year, the team’s seniors finally capitalized on years of unrealized potential.
“Some of these guys have been to three national championship games and lost it in the last 20 seconds of the game,” Wright said. “For this thing to go the way it went down tonight, (the seniors) held us together. It’s a special group.”